Entertainment

Review: Good Vibrations reminds us we can be anything we want to be

Good Vibrations still packs a punk punch, says Jane Hardy

Jayne Wisener as Ruth Carr and Glen Wallace as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. Picture by Carrie Davenport
Jayne Wisener as Ruth Carr and Glen Wallace as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. Picture by Carrie Davenport Jayne Wisener as Ruth Carr and Glen Wallace as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. Picture by Carrie Davenport

Good Vibrations

Grand Opera House, Belfast

Until May 20

The punk musical that first hit Belfast in 2018 at the Lyric theatre had the genre’s raw punch, summed up from the start with an expletive undeleted from Terri Hooley himself.

The story of the great godfather of punk has been revived in a co-production at the Grand Opera House. How else could it begin than with a few choice F-words in the eponymous shop. But if the opening pauses lingered, the drama soon kicked in.

Hooley’s biography contains tough material, including the incident leading to him losing his eye and becoming Terri "with an i", an example of the humour that inevitably got him through.

With a socialist English dad George, nicely played by Marty Maguire, Hooley inherits cussedness. He would go out after bombings, taking the music to a city that needed it.

We see the early days when as part of a collective, Hooley and his great love, Ruth Carr (luminous Jayne Wisener), start the Good Vibrations record shop, then expand.

Early on, it’s a question of faith in the sounds. As Hooley, Glen Wallace is by turns romantic – his first dance with Ruth lighting up the stage, bolshy and idealistic.

Glen Wallace as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. Picture by Carrie Davenport
Glen Wallace as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. Picture by Carrie Davenport Glen Wallace as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. Picture by Carrie Davenport

He exhibits a kind of heroic fecklessness, standing up to sectarian thugs, later to EMI execs, losing money and consignments of records but always keeping going for the music and the philosophy.

It’s a fascinating musical journey, including Hooley’s discovery and promotion of a series of proteges. The scenes with Feargal Sharkey (convincing Dylan Reid) are entertaining and well steered by director Des Kennedy, as the Derry man ("Youse ones from Derry," remarks Hooley with a sneer) persuades him to listen to what The Undertones can do.

Quite a lot, as we hear, since they married a kind of pop sensibility, with great tunes, to the punk DIY musical ethos.

Hooley’s music shop, well evoked in Grace Smart’s clever set, was an institution that set the power of this music against bigotry and the sectarian divide.

As we’re told, punk is "rebellion, kicking against conformity and stagnation, and daring to dream of something different". There is a well charted account of the way John Peel finally received Teenage Kicks, The Undertones' three minutes of musical genius, and got it.

In fact, he liked it so much, he played it twice on his radio show. Ruth calls Terri down from the bathroom – we see him briefly on the bog – and he gets the second playing.

Good Vibrations, the story of Belfast's great godfather of punk, is at the Grand Opera House until May 20. Picture by Carrie Davenport
Good Vibrations, the story of Belfast's great godfather of punk, is at the Grand Opera House until May 20. Picture by Carrie Davenport Good Vibrations, the story of Belfast's great godfather of punk, is at the Grand Opera House until May 20. Picture by Carrie Davenport

Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry’s adaptation from their Bafta-nominated script conveys the sheer significance of what Hooley achieved. As Ruth told Terri early on, "You can be anything you want to be."

The music, from three chord merchants such as Rudi, The Outcasts and the Shangri-Las, lives on, shows us how.